Barbecue lovers need sauces, spices
America boasts many regional styles of barbecue, but both serious 'cue lovers and casual grillers alike shop specialty retailers for a variety of spice rubs and sauces. And although local flavor traditions may run deep, shoppers have plenty of room to experiment and find new tastes to love -- and new ways to use them.
While the majority of American households (80 percent) own a grill or smoker, according to a 2014 survey by the Hearth Barbecue & Patio Association (HBPA), consumers don't have to go outdoors to get their fix of barbecue flavor.
"Barbecue is more popular than ever," says Lawrence Root, owner of Some Like it Hot and Spicy in Huntington, N.Y. "Grilling enthusiasts will use sauces and rubs in many applications. More and more people are smoking their meats with dry rubs and using sauces for finishing their meats. Often people will grill their meats with just a dry rub and put out several different flavors of sauce to dip during the meal."
Root's store offers a wide variety of barbecue and hot sauce options, from extremely spicy sauces to mild yet flavorful versions. Shoppers don't necessarily buy them for just grilling, however. "For people who don't grill, most barbecue sauces can be used in the oven or stovetop," he says. "People are always seeking new and interesting flavors to bring to their home cooking. By carrying products not readily available in the local supermarket, our store is able to introduce consumers to fun and exciting flavors from other parts of the country and world."
All types of specialty stores have found success in the sauces and rubs category. The traditional grilling holidays of Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day are now finding competition from other seasons, with the HBPA noting Thanksgiving, New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday as occasions where people also enjoy cooking outdoors. Tailgating and game day entertaining now boost the popularity of outdoor grilling all year long, even in the coldest of winter climates.
Both locations of Rastelli Market, in Marlton and Deptford, N.J., have seen an uptick in barbecue sales, says Andrea Carr Fitzpatrick, public relations and creative development for the stores. "We have even added additional barbecue items, including sauces and rubs, for the fall and football season based on the success of sales we saw over the summer," she says.
Serve up a Variety of Sauces
Barbecue sauce is a necessity for nearly three-quarters of those who grill, according to the HBPA, which notes that sauces are most often used for basting during cooking. Dipping and combining sauces into other recipes are also popular ways to use them, retailers say, with flavor profiles designed to perfect fit red meat, chile lovers, fruit-based flavor seekers and those who prefer to grill seafood or veggies.
Dan Marguerite, owner of The Backyard Barbecue Store in the northern suburbs of Chicago, says when his shoppers are grilling for kids, they usually buy sweeter sauces and rubs, "But when adults are eating, the sauces and rubs seems to get a lot spicier."
Regional charm is alive in the Lillie's Q Sauces and Rubs line. The brand celebrates a variety of barbecue styles, says Brian Golinvaux, president of the Chicago-based producer, which also has a handful of restaurants. "Barbecue is all about regional differences with distinct personality. Just ask the people of North Carolina. For generations the East versus West debate in sauces has been going strong. It's all about vinegar in the East and tomato in the West. People like to experiment with different regions and flavors. The most popular flavors continue to be the traditional sweet tomato sauces."
Most sauce producers emphasize that barbecue blends can work for more than just meat. "At our restaurants we use Ivory sauce as the dressing for our coleslaw," Golinvaux adds. "There is no wrong way to use the sauces; that's the point -- it should be fun."
Bob Trudnak, creator of BBQ Bob's Hav'n a BBQ sauce and rub line, based in Lansdale, Pa., runs his own barbecue catering business and has won many awards for his work on the barbecue competition circuit. "Because I've cooked for a lot of judges with differing opinions on how barbecue should taste, I balanced sweet, smoky, tangy and spicy into a sauce that appeals to a wide array of people. A good barbeque sauce shouldn't overpower the meat's taste but enhance it and work well with all of its flavors," he says.
His original version of Hav'n a BBQ sauce, and an accompanying rub, keeps to this traditional flavor, and an Alpha version adds a little more heat. He says flavor trends come and go, but because so many people see barbecue as a comfort food, a balanced sweet and tangy flavor will continue to be the strong favorite among consumers.
Shoppers may seek traditional flavors, but they can't always enjoy traditional sauce recipes. Most barbecue sauces have an average of 15 grams of sugar, says Tiffany Prinster, creator of the line of Simple Girl BBQ Sauces, located near St. Louis. The sugar content can limit the whole category for people who choose to have less sugar in their diet or who cannot have sugar at all, she says.
"We created a delicious, all-natural, and sugar-free barbecue sauce sweetened with organic stevia, which is very trendy," she says. "It's also gluten-free and has only 5 calories. For people who don't even consider barbecue anymore because they know the sugar is just too high, Simple Girl Carolina BBQ sauce is a game changer."
Dry Rubs Can Do it All
The category of dry rubs for barbecue and grilling continues to expand, says gourmet salt and spice blender Brett Cramer, who with his wife Jennifer founded The Spice Lab, based in Pompano Beach, Fla. HBPA's most recent survey found at least one-third of grillers saying they usually use a dry rub; but the list of ways to enjoy the rubs goes well beyond the grill.
Cramer says he's expanded The Spice Lab to include spices, seasonings and other products in a wide variety of sizes and packaging options to help meet consumer demand.
"The Spice Lab's extensive line of rubs and seasonings makes it quick and easy to create sophisticated flavors from a simple piece of meat, chicken or fish," he says. "America is becoming a nation of foodies -- looking to try new tastes and spicier dishes. And we all love to cook-out and grill."
Trudnak of the Hav'n a BBQ line says a dry rub can be used like salt or pepper when cooking or finishing dishes. "You can incorporate it into a recipe as you are making it or sprinkle it onto a finished dish right before serving it," he says. "Our Alpha Rub is wonderful on rice dishes, on fall vegetables such as squash and root vegetables. I use dry rubs to top deviled eggs, in corn bread muffins, and even with casseroles. If you make a Bloody Mary from scratch, add the rub to the tomato juice."
Another way dry rubs can show their versatility is by adding some kick to consumers' other favorite sauces and condiments -- like mayo, queso, marinara or ketchup, says Daina Falk, creator of The Hungry Fan line of spice blends. The Hungry Fan caters to consumers who love to entertain and enjoy great food on game days, she says. She's even created a website around helping consumers marry their love of sports and good eating.
While consumers may not always focus on enjoying healthy foods during tailgating or game watching parties, the Hungry Fan Barbecue Blend is certified USDA Organic to please those who pay attention to ingredient lists.
Falk adds that her spice blends can work for many more foods than just grilled meats. "Sprinkle it atop your popcorn, pretzels, chips or nuts, add it into chili, make dip with it, add it into potato salad or cole slaw -- even make BBQ Bloody Marys with it. There's so much you can do," she says.
Having fun with barbecue sauces and rubs is the point, Falk advises. She and other gourmet producers suggest retailers serve some of the more unusual, and yet simple, recipes for barbecue spices and sauces when sampling them to shoppers. Showing how far the products can go makes it even easier to sell them for everyday grilling needs.
Ghost Pepper and Barbecue Sauce
Mrs. Renfro's offers two new barbecue sauce flavors, Chipotle and Ghost Pepper. The ghost pepper sauce is extremely hot but has been an extremely popular flavor in salsa, works well as a wing or dipping sauce. 16-ounce jar. SRP: $3.59.
Mrs. Renfro's, Fort Worth, Texas, 800-332-245, www.renfrofoods.com
Bone Suckin' Sauce Steak Sauce
A good steak doesn't need a lot to be great, just the right sauce. Bone Suckin' Sauce Steak Sauce has a light, smoky flavor, combined with bits of onions, garlic and the perfect blend of spices. 11.75-ounce bottle. SRP: $5.99.
Bone Suckin' Sauce, Raleigh, N.C., 919-833-7647, www.bonesuckin.com
Sugar Free Barbecue Sauce
Simple Girl Carolina Style Barbecue Sauce is gluten-free, contains zero fat, preservatives and sugars, and is made with SweetLeaf brand stevia. Makes a great marinade, cooking sauce or dip. It adds a sweet, smoky flavor to grilled meats. SRP: $5.97.
Simple Girl, Wentzville, Mo., 844-834-8144, www.simplegirl.com
Resealable 4-ounce packs of barbecue spice rubs from The Spice Lab come in a variety of flavors, including Everglades Chicken & Gator Seasoning, Ancho Chili & Coffee Burger & Steak Seasoning, South Beach Mango Chipotle Seasoning, Original Spicy Seafood Seasoning and more. SRP: $3.99. Also available in 6-ounce glass jars with serving spoons. SRP: $8.99.
The Spice Lab, Pompano Beach, Fla., 954-275-4478, www.thespicelab.com, FFS 681
Dry Rubs in Traditional Barbecue Flavor
BBQ Bob's Hav'n A BBQ sauces and rubs appeal to a wide variety of barbecue lovers. The recipe is based on a competition-winning blend, and both sauces and rubs come in Original and Alpha varieties. SRP: $7.95 for 6-ounce rub; $7.95 for 19-ounce sauce.
BBQ Bob's Hav'n A BBQ, Lansdale, Pa., 215-527-7739, www.haveabbq.com